Pfizer anticipating booster needed to provide better efficacy, but federal regulators say not yet

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Pfizer/BioNTech has announced it anticipates a third COVID booster shot will provide the highest continued efficacy against the virus. Shortly after the drug maker made that statement, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and U.S. Food and Drug Administration immediately responded in a joint statement saying boosters are still not needed at this point.

"We don't want the companies to make their vaccines, you know, wipe their hands and walk away and say we're done, we want them to continue to study them, refine them and look into what might be next," said Dr. Jim Conway, medical director, UW Health Immunization Program.

Doctors say it's a good thing Pfizer/BioNTech is continuing their research on when boosters may be needed. The company is also looking to modify their current COVID vaccine to address new variants like delta, which would need to be approved by federal regulators.

"It's very encouraging to know that they are actively working to develop safe vaccine boosters for the future, the question is the timing and when would these be most appropriate to be given," says Dr. Minhaj Husain, infectious disease physician for Advocate Aurora Health.

Even so, experts say having more data is critical. The CDC and FDA say as of now, Americans do not need boosters, adding their rigorous process does not rely only on data from pharmaceutical companies.

"We don't have evidence that -- from a clinical trial, saying that people are better off getting a third dose," said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer at Wisconsin DHS Bureau of Communicable Diseases.

On Friday, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services said both sides are right.

"Drug makers are being proactive and doing good science on investigating this, while the clinical guidance committees and the regulators are standing behind very high-quality evidence," Dr. Westergaard said.

"The CDC or the FDA are not saying that we don't need them at all, what they are saying is that at this point in time, we probably don't need it right away," said Dr. Husain.

DHS officials say Wisconsin is already starting to prepare for booster distribution.

"As a state, you know, we are thinking ahead and beginning to ponder how we would deliver boosters if that recommendation were made," says Julie Willems Van Dijk, Wisconsin DHS deputy secretary.

Doctors say while boosters could be useful at some point, the focus now still has to be on helping people who are unvaccinated understand the importance of getting the vaccine in order to protect themselves and others.

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